ONCE again, the Cebu media is celebrating the Cebu Press Freedom Week from Sept. 20 to 26. But this year’s celebration is quite different from the previous years because of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. Most activities are online. A grand parade with media outlets was supposed to be held yesterday as a grand opening, but it was cancelled. No more mass gathering. Forums and symposiums are on line. Parties and socials sponsored by big private companies, especially during the culmination night, were also cancelled.
As a legitimate and active member of Cebu’s fourth estate, I’m suppose to join the celebration with much rejoice. But it is very unfortunate that during this celebration of Press Freedom Week, I am facing two more libel cases, cyber libel, courtesy of “has-been” mayor Tomas Osmeña’s son, Miguel.
Sources at the Palace of Justice said that the Cebu City Prosecutor’s Office filed the two cyberlibel cases against me over the weekend. It will still be raffled within the week. According to the source, the fiscal’s office recommended a bail bond of P60,000 for each count. So, I have to prepare P120,000 for bail in the event the court will issue a warrant of arrest against me. Paet! This is my 28th libel case in my entire 40 years as a broadcast-journalist.
I and my lawyer, Joan Baron, are yet to receive the copy of the information. But we are already preparing for our legal move. I don’t want to discuss the details about these cases because I am already facing two libel cases before the court under the Revised Penal Code (Article 353) on the same questioned articles published in this paper and in Superbalita few years ago in which I allegedly linked Miguel to the illegal butane canister business.
But, you know, these are rehashed cases. These cases have been dismissed by Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 11 Presiding Judge Ramon Daomilas Jr., last December 2019.
Judge Daomilas granted my motion to quash the two cyberlibel cases, citing the Supreme Court’s 2014 ruling in the Jose Jesus M. Disini, et al vs. the Secretary of Justice on double jeopardy.
“Online libel is different. There should be no question that if the published material on print, said to be libelous, is again posted on line or vice versa, that identical material cannot be the subject of two separate libels,” according to the Supreme Court.
It further states: “The two offenses, one a violation of Article 353 of the Revised Penal Code and the other violation of Section 4 (c)(4) of Republic Act 10175 (Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012), involve essentially the same elements and are in fact one and the same offense.’ The High Tribunal also ruled that charging the offender under both laws would be a ‘blatant violation of the proscription against double jeopardy.”
Daomilas ruled: “Clearly then, there can only be one type of libel that the prosecution can file, either libel under the Revised Penal Code or cyberlibel under RA 10175. While the Alejandro case which prosecution cites is more recent, it does not directly rule on the peculiar circumstances attendant to these instant two cases; the Alejandro case merely ruled on the principle of double jeopardy in general.”
The judge’s joint order further states: “The Disini case, on the other hand, is on all fours to these instant two cases because it seeks to prevent what is precisely happening: a person sued twice for publishing an article through print media as violation of the RPC and through the world wide web as a violation of RA 10175.”
Daomilas further ruled: “The Disini case ruled on the constitutionality of RA 10175. It expressly proscribed the filing of two separate cases of libel under RPC and at the same time under RA 10175. There is no necessary to subject an accused to go through an entire trial and wait for a conviction or acquittal before he can invoke his right against double jeopardy.”
Siyaro ug wala sila makasabot aning desisyona. For me, this is plain and simple harassment aimed to silence me. I don’t see also the logic why the prosecutor’s office still entertained such cases. These should been thrown in the garbage bin.